It was our first session of Driver’s Ed, and there we were sitting in the nerdy Driver’s Ed car. At last, it was my friend’s turn to drive and she joyously made her way to the front seat. With excitement on her face and eagerness to get moving, she simultaneously placed her right foot on the gas pedal and her left foot on the brake. The whole car cried out in laughter, as it seemed comical to us that she clearly wasn’t aware that you’re supposed to drive with one foot. She had obviously spaced out when the rest of us had our turns to drive.
But, in her defense, was it so illogical that she positioned herself like that? It’s not like the rest of us drove with one foot because we read it somewhere or the driving instructor told us to do so.
We just somehow knew.
If you read a Driver’s Ed Manual, you’ll notice that the literature focuses primarily on how to stay safe, how to read road signs, and how to harmoniously exist on the road with fellow drivers. But nowhere does it address how to actually operate a car; that vital part of the equation is left for the driving instructor or parent to cover or relies on the presumption that car controls are simply self-explanatory.
Like driving, much of formal Sex-Education addresses how to protect yourself, which signs require attention, and how to relate to others. But in terms of understanding how the body actually functions, the anatomy that is taught in Sex-Ed is very limited in helping youth, especially young women, truly understand how their bodies operate sexually. Due to fears of unwanted pregnancy, non-consensual sex, and STDs, the focus of Sex-Ed often centers on what you don’t want to happen as opposed to what actually does.
But let’s be honest. Most of us learned about sex the informal way: through the media, friends, or even billboards on the streets. And with all its blatant and subliminal information, informal Sex-Ed certainly is inadequate in addressing the realities of sexual functioning. If anything, it only reinforces stereotypes and myths (e.g. having an orgasm means uncontrollable screaming that wakes up the whole neighborhood), and causes confusion and unnecessary feelings of isolation when personal experience doesn’t live up to those expectations.
The consequence of the absence of the right Sex-Ed is that women grow up with the empowerment message of ‘I am allowed to say no’ but they don’t even know the basic anatomy of the region they are protecting. The miraculous nature of a woman’s reproductive system is truly incredible. But when a woman looks down and has been trained to see a “DANGER” sign or media-imposed stereotypes, it becomes difficult to fully appreciate the wonders of her body. How are women supposed to know what they want if they don’t really know what they’ve got?
The issues around formal and informal Sex-Ed continue to be a hot topic because, like driving, there will always be a challenge in finding the balance in teaching the beauty of independence with the caveat of safety. Perhaps that is why some parents may avoid ‘the talk’ with their children altogether; it’s a daunting task that in reality, should entail having many ‘talks’ and sheds light on the fact that many ‘grown-ups’ are fairly uncomfortable talking about sex unless they are joking around. But whether ‘the talk’ happens or not, the yearning for information and guidance is clear, and where it comes from plays a significant role in how it is processed and ultimately internalized.
The information and messages you received (and continue to receive) about sex are very pertinent to the way you relate to your body today. Understanding how you learned about sex and who taught you may be helpful in gaining clarity about the choices you’ve made, and for some the impact goes beyond sexual intimacy and extends into their whole attitude and confidence as a sexual being.
Whether you got your Sex-Ed from a diagram, your mother or from the know-it-all kid on the school bus, those early road signs led you down various roads of experience- some for better, some for worse- but all part of the greater journey of learning about your body and yourself. But today, you have the license to choose how much you allow those earlier messages to dictate what your sex life looks like now, and with courage and willingness you can enjoy the empowering feeling of steering your sex life in the direction you so desire.